Do you know what is better than charity and fasting and prayer?

It is keeping peace and good relations between people,

as quarrels and bad feelings destroy mankind.

- Prophet Mohammed


Day 21

When I got to work this morning, it was nice and silent. No one was there yet which was a real treat. For the past two years, it's been just me in the office for a solid thirty minutes before the first soul walked though that door. I could quietly do some work and allow the morning to slowly take hold off me. I miss those days, but you can't stop the rain by complaining, so I enjoyed my time this morning. It's not that I like being alone all the time, it's just nice to have a moment to yourself outside of the house.

My routine changes every now and then, but it's safe to say that I'll get on Facebook at some point during the first few hours of my day to see what's cooking. Today, I saw that an old friend was getting ready for his bachelor party. I didn't even really know that he was getting married. I knew he was serious but that was it. In fact, several of my friends from college have also gotten married and each time I look at subsequent the pictures, I get a little sad. I've been in Korea longer than I was in college. I never saw that coming, but for some reason,  I knew back then that something was about to change. I wrote this before heading to Seoul.
I'll only post one time before I go, but I felt that a pre-Seoul update would be worth it.
I left Knoxville yesterday, July 6th, after a week with great friends and family. It was different though. Sure, I'm leaving for a year, but there seemed to more than just that on everyone's mind. We are all leaving (at least most of us) and although it was unspoken, we all knew that we would never hang out in Tennessee like that again, let alone Knoxville. Yeah, we'll meet for homecoming or some other function, but the days of 'good clean fun', as we playfully called all excessive behavior, are over.
Not to fret though. I sincerly believe that we will all continue to remain close, despite the distance. Of course, time will tell and we all have a journey ahead of us, but we must remember the simple joys we all bring to each other...
See you in Korea.
And I was right. Most of that crew has not hung out in Tennessee like that again. I remember driving away on July 5th with a tear in my eye wanting to turn around and say goodbye again, but I had to go. I had to start my journey and it has certainly turned out to be one hell of a great ride. Still, every once and while, when I hear a special song or smell a certain smell, the memories of my past friendships come rushing back and the feeling is still as fresh now as it was when I was here for only a week
I searched through my Ipod library. I cruised through AC/DC, Ah ha, Al Green, Allman Brothers, America, Beach Boys, Beatles, Big Brother and the Holding Company, Billy Joel, Billy Ocean, Bob Dylan, Bob Marley and then I spotted my selection: Bob Seger. I knew what song I needed. It's a song that I hold so dear to my heart. It is probably the song that my college friends and I listened to more than any other. I selected it and the guitar started playing. I sat there for a second and waited for the lyrics to start.
The song continued and I didn't miss a beat. I wasn't walking alone during t hat song. I was walking with a wealth of memories of some of the greatest people I have ever met. I was walking with them and they were walking right along side of me; singing, playing, dancing and reminding me what is important and truly priceless in this world.
And to be honest, nothing has changed.  I still carry them and those times with me everywhere I go. My life now is much more complicated than it was then for sure, but even in their total absence for years, I have never really felt lonely. Again, I have a great wife, plenty of solid friends here and a ton of pre-college pals in addition to that early-aught crew, but I have always felt a pitted sensation when I think about the separation of our group. I know that Buddism and Jainism tell me that I should detach myself from people for they will only cause me pain, but I just can't do that totally. I'm a social creature. All humans are. 

Perhaps I'm a victim of "immigrant time warp" and my affection gauge is a little whacked. Maybe my friends have grown apart a lot since I left or maybe they've stayed the same; I don't know really. I do know that I still view them as warmly as I did years ago and plan on jumping right back into the scene (albeit in a married sort of way) once we return. 

I assumed all people were similar to me which is why I found a recent Psychology Today article titled,  "Are Americans Becoming More and More Isolated?" so surprising. It argues, among other things, that we are becoming more isolated from others because we have moved away from our hometowns, friends and family in search of work which leads to loneliness. I disagree with that, but my mother often tells me that she was surprised that I was able to stay in a University that was so far away from her. At that point, I never thought about it much thought. Same as being in Korea. It's been a bunch of years, but I still think the last time we saw each other was very recent (eight months). 

So, maybe I'm different. Maybe I have a greater ability to detach myself from people and in a way I agree. I've always been a roll-with-the-punches guy and able to move from one group of people to the next, but therein lies the problem. I'm not moving on and staying detached. I'm just reattaching myself somewhere else. 

The article started with two interesting questions:
1. Looking back over the last six months - who are the people with whom you discussed matters important to you?
2. How many friends outside of your household do you have that you see or speak to at least once a week?
I'm going to answer question #2 first.  I see maybe four or five a week (colleagues excluded) and talk to (SMS/Skype/Facebook/Email excluded) about the same each week. According to the stats, I'm pretty average. Adding in all the other mediums, I would increase to about nine to fifteen a week. Once I got married, I pretty much decided that my wife was going to be the one who I spent most of my time with. Isn't that the point?

The second question is where I bring in Jainism. Discussing important matters is, well, important, but defining that importance is the greater battle rather than simple finding a person to vent to. The concept of Jain detachment can be used in the real world. Lord Mahavir spent twelve years in the forest practicing 
Aparigraha. During that time he meditated deeply and tried to separate himself from his worldly desires. That's not really practical, but it can help us on two levels. 

First of all, we can mediate before bringing other people into our desirous world of problems. While meditating, things really do become very clear and lucid. The universe that dwells within each of us is an endless and largely untapped well of wisdom and guidance. Any problem that is properly meditated on (or thought-out), may prove to not be a problem at all or might in fact prove to be more easily solved than originally thought. 

The second part of this is that I don't think people need to use friends at sounding boards for venting frustrations. Friendship, to me, has more to do with mutual benevolence and shared experience than it does a cliff from which we loft complaints. I had a buddy in college that when I would ask how he was, he would respond, "I'm depressed." Burdening people with your problems is not what a friend does, especially since we have the capacity to solve them on our own. 

As for me, well, I love my wife, my family, my dog, my friends and all the people I have in my life. That's why they are still in my life. That said, I also have enjoyed the extreme nature in which Jainism has suggested that I severe ties with people. I know that sounds harsh, but it teaches you the value of yourself and the amazing capacity that we have within all of us to accept, evaluate and manage basic human problems. 

Rather than picking up the phone to whine, try sitting silently and thinking. 

1 comment:

  1. This Blog post is particularly poignant to me since I just returned from a summer trip to hometown. I relished my time with some of my very oldest friends...some beginning in 1961. How lucky am I to still have these friends? Very lucky!! When I read your comments about your UT friends, my heart stirred with is so hard to move on but as you know from witnessing your Mom all these years, their importance is immeasurable. Also YOU know the lave you hold in their hearts also. My belief is these people make me the best I can be. MY friends and you, George, and my other dear family friends!! I want to be connected and will never choose to severe myself from any of you all....I am who I am because of you whom I love....past, present and future!!